Recently watched the episode on R&T entitled “One Argument Eastern Orthodox Can’t Answer!”, previously entitled “An Orthodox Professor’s to Papal Infallibility at Constantinople III”. This affords an opportunity to look further into something pertinent to the question of papal error from a historical point of view. In this video, Michael Lofton sought to explain how the acceptance of Agatho’s letter at the Council of Constantinople (681) is a proof that Eastern Orthodoxy had accepted the essence of Vatican 1 (1870) in her own dogmatic history, in no less than the context of an Ecumenical Council. Thus far, this does stand to be true. As far as I can see, anyway.
However, Lofton then tries to reconcile how it is that the Council can anathematize Pope Honorius for heresy with the claims of Pope Agatho on how the see of Rome had been, both hitherto and forever more, unblemished without any error. Pope Leo II, who was the Pope who ratified the Council after reading about the heresy of Honorius, also ratified the anathema against Honorius for heresy. In his own words, Honorius was guilty of heresy because he “𝑑𝑖𝑑 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑒𝑚𝑝𝑡 𝑡𝑜 𝑠𝑎𝑛𝑐𝑡𝑖𝑓𝑦 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝐴𝑝𝑜𝑠𝑡𝑜𝑙𝑖𝑐 𝐶ℎ𝑢𝑟𝑐ℎ 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑡𝑒𝑎𝑐ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑜𝑓 𝐴𝑝𝑜𝑠𝑡𝑜𝑙𝑖𝑐 𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑑𝑖𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛, 𝑏𝑢𝑡 𝑏𝑦 𝑝𝑟𝑜𝑓𝑎𝑛𝑒 𝑡𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑐ℎ𝑒𝑟𝑦 𝑝𝑒𝑟𝑚𝑖𝑡𝑡𝑒𝑑 𝑖𝑡𝑠 𝑝𝑢𝑟𝑖𝑡𝑦 𝑡𝑜 𝑏𝑒 𝑝𝑜𝑙𝑙𝑢𝑡𝑒𝑑”. What could it possibly mean to pollute or “stain” the purity of the Apostolic See if not by endorsing error?
So there is, prima facie, a bit of an inconsistency. How can Agatho’s claims and the anathema against Honorius, supported by the Council and the Apostolic See itself, be reconciled? Lofton does this by saying that the Council and Pope Leo II had the distinction in mind that Honorius was writing as a private person and not in his office as universal teacher. In my opinion, this simply has no foundations in the historical record, and what Lofton is doing is pushing distinctions which simply no one thought about in the 7th century. All the evidence shows that Honorius intended to write as the Pope to the East with commands to adhere to certain stipulations. In other words, there is no doubt that Honorius’s letters are at least issued in the mode of the Pope’s non-definitive magisterium. However, this would undermine his position [Lofton’s] that the Pope’s magisterial decrees are always protected from teaching heresies that harm the soul since the Council judged the letters of Honorius as following “𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑓𝑎𝑙𝑠𝑒 𝑡𝑒𝑎𝑐ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑔𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 ℎ𝑒𝑟𝑒𝑡𝑖𝑐𝑠; 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑟𝑒𝑓𝑜𝑟𝑒 𝑤𝑒 𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑖𝑟𝑒𝑙𝑦 𝑟𝑒𝑗𝑒𝑐𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑚, 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑒𝑥𝑒𝑐𝑟𝑎𝑡𝑒 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑚 𝑎𝑠 ℎ𝑢𝑟𝑡𝑓𝑢𝑙 𝑡𝑜 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑠𝑜𝑢𝑙.” Note that last part: 𝗵𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗳𝘂𝗹 𝘁𝗼 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝗼𝘂𝗹. And so, if the letters of Honorius were magisterial decrees, then there exists a strong case that the non-definitive decrees of the Pope were understood by the Council to be able to be harmful to souls. Needless to say, Pope Leo II had no issue with these claims.
Let’s look briefly at how Honorius’s decrees must have been issued in his office as the Pope.
Sergius of Constantinople issued an official letter to Pope Honorius recounting the theological dispute that was taking place between Patriarchs in the East on the subject of how many activities/energies/wills are in Christ. This was not some fly by night debate between bishops. This was an inter-Patriarchal struggle for the orthodoxy of the Byzantine Empire, which had been threatened with disarray over the matter. At the end of his letter to Honorius, this is the request he gives:
“𝑊𝑒 𝑒𝑥ℎ𝑜𝑟𝑡 𝑌𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝐴𝑙𝑙-𝑠𝑎𝑐𝑟𝑒𝑑𝑛𝑒𝑠𝑠 𝑡𝑜 𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑑 𝑎𝑙𝑙 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠, 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑎𝑠 𝑤𝑒 𝑛𝑜𝑤 𝑡𝑜𝑜 𝑓𝑜𝑙𝑙𝑜𝑤 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐺𝑜𝑑-𝑝𝑙𝑒𝑎𝑠𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑚𝑜𝑠𝑡 𝑓𝑢𝑙𝑙 𝑙𝑜𝑣𝑒 𝑤ℎ𝑖𝑐ℎ 𝑖𝑠 𝑖𝑛 𝑌𝑜𝑢, [𝑤𝑒 𝑏𝑒𝑔 𝑌𝑜𝑢] 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡, 𝑖𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑟𝑒 𝑖𝑠 𝑎𝑛𝑦𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑤ℎ𝑖𝑐ℎ 𝑖𝑠 𝑝𝑒𝑟ℎ𝑎𝑝𝑠 𝑓𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑑 𝑤𝑎𝑛𝑡𝑖𝑛𝑔, 𝑡𝑜 𝑐𝑜𝑚𝑝𝑙𝑒𝑚𝑒𝑛𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝒃𝒚 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒈𝒓𝒂𝒄𝒆 𝒘𝒉𝒊𝒄𝒉 𝒉𝒂𝒔 𝒃𝒆𝒆𝒏 𝒈𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒏 𝒕𝒐 𝒀𝒐𝒖 𝒃𝒚 𝑮𝒐𝒅 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑏𝑦 𝑌𝑜𝑢𝑟 ℎ𝑜𝑙𝑦 𝑤𝑜𝑟𝑑𝑠 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ 𝑌𝑜𝑢𝑟 ℎ𝑜𝑝𝑒𝑑-𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑠𝑢𝑝𝑝𝑜𝑟𝑡, 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒐 𝒊𝒏𝒅𝒊𝒄𝒂𝒕𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒎𝒂𝒕𝒕𝒆𝒓𝒔 𝒘𝒉𝒊𝒄𝒉 𝒀𝒐𝒖 𝒋𝒖𝒅𝒈𝒆 𝒓𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒕”
(Pauline Allen, Sophronius of Jerusalem and Seventh-Century Heresy, , (Oxford University Press, 2009; pages 161-217) p. 195)
The Patriarch of Constantinople is asking for the prelate of the Apostolic See to “judge” upon the subject of the Christological debate taking place in the inter-Patriarchal context of the Byzantine East. Therefore, there is no way that Honorius’s response to Sergius would be in the mode of a “private person”. Honorius’s response letter also commands the Patriarch with an admonition to hold what Rome unanimously holds. Honorius writes:
“𝑌𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝐵𝑟𝑜𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑟ℎ𝑜𝑜𝑑 𝒘𝒊𝒍𝒍 𝒑𝒓𝒐𝒄𝒍𝒂𝒊𝒎 𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒔 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉 𝒖𝒔, 𝑗𝑢𝑠𝑡 𝑎𝑠 𝑤𝑒 𝑡𝑜𝑜 𝒖𝒏𝒂𝒏𝒊𝒎𝒐𝒖𝒔𝒍𝒚 𝒑𝒓𝒐𝒄𝒍𝒂𝒊𝒎 𝒊𝒕 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉 𝒀𝒐𝒖, 𝒖𝒓𝒈𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒀𝒐𝒖 𝑡𝑜 𝑎𝑣𝑜𝑖𝑑 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑖𝑛𝑡𝑟𝑜𝑑𝑢𝑐𝑒𝑑 𝑒𝑥𝑝𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑛𝑒𝑤 𝑣𝑜𝑐𝑎𝑏𝑢𝑙𝑎𝑟𝑦 ‘𝑜𝑛𝑒 𝑜𝑟 𝑡𝑤𝑜 𝑎𝑐𝑡𝑖𝑣𝑖𝑡𝑖𝑒𝑠’, 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒐 𝒑𝒓𝒐𝒄𝒍𝒂𝒊𝒎 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉 𝒖𝒔 𝒊𝒏 𝒐𝒓𝒕𝒉𝒐𝒅𝒐𝒙 𝒇𝒂𝒊𝒕𝒉 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒄𝒂𝒕𝒉𝒐𝒍𝒊𝒄 𝒖𝒏𝒊𝒕𝒚 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒐𝒏𝒆 𝑳𝒐𝒓𝒅 𝑱𝒆𝒔𝒖𝒔 𝑪𝒉𝒓𝒊𝒔𝒕, 𝑆𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑙𝑖𝑣𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝐺𝑜𝑑, 𝑡𝑟𝑢𝑒 𝐺𝑜𝑑, 𝑤ℎ𝑜 𝑖𝑛 𝑡𝑤𝑜 𝑛𝑎𝑡𝑢𝑟𝑒𝑠 𝑒𝑓𝑓𝑒𝑐𝑡𝑠 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑤𝑜𝑟𝑘𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐺𝑜𝑑ℎ𝑒𝑎𝑑 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 ℎ𝑢𝑚𝑎𝑛𝑖𝑡𝑦.” (ibid., 205)
Honorius also wrote a 2nd letter to Sergius wherein he speaks of his writing to the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem with the same orders. One can read them in full at the link in the comments.
There is no doubt that these letters dispatched from Honorius to the East fulfill the conditions which Pope Agatho called the “exhortation and admonitions of our predecessors in the Apostolic See” which he thought were infallible per the promise of Christ.
I think the best bet we have as Catholics is to say that the Council was not infallible in its condemnation of Honorius and that the current magisterium could revisit this precise question on whether the “fact” of Honorius’s letters are truly erroneous. I agree with Lofton that, given a private read of Honorius’s letters, they are free from the error of monotheletism. Nevertheless, he did order that the Church should be silent on whether in Christ there are two activities, which the Council saw as wrong.
But this also opens up doors for the Orthodox. If it is true that Catholics can look back upon Constantinople (681) and import distinctions that would allow unwanted tensions free from being real contradictions, then so can the Orthodox. Catholics go back in time and re-measure what decrees are what level of authority, despite the fact that we have no evidence of that in the players of the time. Why could not the Orthodox? For instance, the Orthodox could argue that the anathema of Honorius itself *counts* as an undoing of whatever else was said at the Council that would prove otherwise. In other words, what forbids an Orthodox today from saying, “Well, the Council did not, in so many articulated words, explicitly deny the claims to perpetual infallibility in the Roman Pontiffs, but the anathema of Honorius COUNTS as an undoing of that claim”? I would venture to say that the same nuancing that goes on with our re-sizing what counts in the Papal magisterial past opens the doors and leaves room for the Orthodox to do the same re-sizing. And, in this case, they can re-size the logical significance of Honorius’s condemnation as a substantial subtraction of Agatho’s claims that the Roman Pontiff could never be a heretic, or teach error.
Great response! However, I believe that the weight of this question may be unnecessarily high. The Church’s ultimate goal is to guide individuals towards salvation, which may have been overlooked in this discussion. Papal infallibility should be viewed in a soteriological context, meaning that the Pope in union with the Church will never jeopardize the Church’s salvific nature. As language and meanings evolve over time, it may become difficult to maintain an intellectual infallibility as most Catholics understand it.
My view is that the concepts of papal infallibility and the infallibility of the church need to be reinterpreted in soteriological terms. By doing so, we can hope to achieve the goal of reuniting as One Church with God’s grace.
The Church’s salvation depends on the Church Councils, Acts 15, not one bishop as first among equals among all bishops: all bishops are equal in Christ, all Apostles are equal to each other in Christ, and there is no First Apostle as Prince/King of the Apostles as in allegedly Peter as a Pope. Peter was a Saint, not a Pope of Rome.
I suspect the solution here is no solution at all – we simply need to look at the balance of evidence and see who comes out on top while acknowledging our fallibility as human beings.
Hey Erick I kinda have some questions about this. What about the bishops of Rome and their opinion on this incident with Pope Honorius? I’m particularly interested in the popes soon after the Sixth Ecumenical Council because I believe they are key in understanding this situation. Do we have any of their writings online translated from Latin specifically dealing with this topic? Thanks
Edit: I’m new and pretty late anyway to all of these discussions. Let me know if you have already addressed this in other articles or youtube videos.
Roman Catholics have been squirming over the case of Honorius for centuries.
I, for one, aren’t going to resize anything. The condemnation by an Ecumenical Council is a big deal. Saying the condemnation of Honorius was not infallible is a terrible argument and confirms my worst suspensions about modern papal groupies.
Anything Roman Catholics appeal to in order to say the Pope is the head of the whole church is merely a forgery like the Donation of Constantine, and if that hasn’t been proven YET it none the less WILL BE. Period. Amen.
“I think the best bet we have as Catholics is to say that the Council was not infallible in its condemnation of Honorius and that the current magisterium could revisit this precise question on whether the “fact” of Honorius’s letters are truly erroneous. ”
Apologies, but I’m not sure I understand this.
Could one not simply say that the condemnation only had force to the extent it was approved by Leo II, and that Agatho’s letter concerns definitive statements only?
Why would a Catholic be commited to Lofton’s thesis?
That assumes that those who have the sufficient truth need to be able to answer every possible human logical question to prove their Church is the True Church founded by Jesus Christ, that truth is known by logical argumentation of human rational philosophy, not by believing the Revelation of God The New Testament (and OT with Anagiskomena) according to the Orthodox guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Orthodox Church (Acts 9, John 16:13), in the 7 Ecumenical Councils of Orthodoxy (325-787 AD), and the main period of Orthodox theology, 325 AD to 1453 AD, Constantine through Photius, Palamas, and St. Mark of Ephesus, al 1444/1445. Answering errors of Florence, which was not an Ecumenical Council of the True Church. God bless you. Reject Filioque to save your soul from atheism.